Michigan’s Great Southwest Sustainable Business Forum Merges with West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum

Michigan’s Great Southwest Sustainable Business Forum has completed a merger with West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum to create the largest regional organization for sustainable business practitioners in the Midwest.

The combined organization, headquartered in Grand Rapids, will serve 220 member organizations and the general community in a 10-county territory that stretches from Muskegon County to the Indiana border with a unified mission of promoting business practices that demonstrate environmental stewardship, economic vitality, and social responsibility.

The merger allows MGSSBF to share administrative costs with the larger program and invest more resources to its mission.  It is already bringing new programs to the Great Southwest, including a recycling user group based on a successful program in the Grand Rapids area, an initiative to help local events and fairs implement recycling and sustainability programs, and a program to capture unique waste materials for use by artists.

Founding President Becky Kliss, President of Green Connection Inc. in St. Joseph, organized the initiative in 2010 to provide a local resource for organizations in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties after participating in WMSBF and similar programs in Kalamazoo and South Bend.

“Southwest Michigan had fallen behind on sustainable business issues,” said Kliss. “We wanted to build a vehicle to educate local businesses on sustainability matters, and to provide a place to collaborate on efforts to improve environmental and social outcomes in our community.”

Led by a 12-member board of local sustainability and business leaders, the organization has grown from 10 founding members to nearly 100 today. As this happened, its leadership realized that the needs of the organization were surpassing the capacity of its volunteers and contract administrative support.

West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, meanwhile, was in the midst of a three-year growth period, doubling its program participation, membership and revenue, while developing new research and education roles in partnership with state universities and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. It was outgrowing its available capacity and had identified a strategic need for regional partnerships that would allow it to be competitive with statewide and national organizations for project funding.

Last year the two organizations entered into a strategic alliance that would allow WMSBF to perform administrative and development functions for MGSSBF. Pooling resources in this way allowed for the hiring of a project manager and reduced the administrative costs of MGSSBF, diverting more resources to program development and member resources. After the conclusion of a six-month pilot program, the respective boards of the two organizations began merger negotiations.

“We are excited for this opportunity to expand our network and link the great work of businesses in Michigan’s Great Southwest to the sustainable business community of West Michigan,” said Alison Waske Sutter, WMSBF Board President and manager of corporate responsibility for SpartanNash. “Over the past year we’ve been very impressed with the passion and expertise we’ve found in our sister community, and our honored to be a part of efforts to help promote sustainable business practices there.”

West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum will continue to do business as Michigan’s Great Southwest Sustainable Business Forum in Southwest Michigan for the foreseeable future. The board of directors have combined, with current board secretary Lyn Wolf, of Lake Michigan College, and Wightman & Associates’ Anna Keehn assuming positions on the WMSBF board.  Wolf will chair a new leadership committee that will guide the direction of the organization.

Existing members of both organizations will now receive reciprocal benefits.

WMSBF Executive Director Daniel Schoonmaker has led the organization since 2013. A sustainability educator and advocate that has also worked as a journalist and marketing consultant for environmentally responsible products, he was last year named one of West Michigan’s Forty Under 40 Business Leaders, a finalist for Grand Rapids Young Non-Profit Executive of the Year, and one of the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s Newsmakers of the Year. He is also a LEED Accredited Professional with the US Green Building Council and a veteran of the US Marine Corps.

“This is an important step for the sustainable business community in western Michigan,” said Schoonmaker.  “We can accomplish more together then we ever could separately.

Already, MGSSBF has big plans for 2017 with educational events planned for the next three months, starting with a Green Event Workshop this Friday at Western Michigan University designed to educate local organizations on how to host more sustainable events, meetings, weddings and corporate picnics. This will be followed by a luncheon discussing sustainable food systems in March and its annual legislative breakfast in April.